From the Thorley Archives

The Railway Comes to Thorley

What is the connection between the railway line passing through Thorley in 1844, Roman chariots and the booster rockets on the space shuttle?

Acts of Parliament of 1836 & 1841 authorised The Northern and Eastern Railway Company to build a railway from London to Cambridge. The Acts delineated the line to be taken, where the bridges were to be built and the properties through which the track was to run. The principal Thorley landowner was George Frere of Twyford House and, being a prominent London lawyer, he laid down several conditions. There was to be no station at Thorley, no diversion of water courses, there was to be a level crossing at Twyford Road, two substantial wooden bridges with iron trusses (in Pig Lane and a track from Twyford House to the main road opposite Thorley Lane?) and a light wooden footbridge with steps ( the Roley Croak).

The Level Crossing in Twyford Road in early 1900s
with Mr Moxon outside his gatekeeper's cottage

The line opened as far as Spel(l)brook on 22nd November 1841 where it terminated for a short time. Passengers were transferred to Bishop's Stortford by carriage. Spel(l)brook had a station, a water tank and a turntable, the latter used to turn the tender engines, as the Board of Trade would not allow such locomotives to run tender first. The double track line was extended to Bishop's Stortford on 16th May 1842 with a gauge of 5 feet. This was altered to 4 feet 8 inches in 1844.

The reason for the delay was that the station site at Bishop's Stortford required the excavation of a large embankment and then track consolidation above the level of the flood plain. Also bridges had to be built over the River Stort and the turnpike road beside the Tanners Arms Public House.

Bishop's Stortford Station in 1842
- from a line drawing now in the Hertfordshire Record Office

The Northern and Eastern Company was transferred on a 999 year lease to the Eastern Counties Company in 1844. This company was absorbed into the Great Eastern Railway in 1862. After regrouping following WW1, our railway became London & North East Railway, in 1948 British Railways, in 1997 WAGN and in then in 2004, as part of National Express Group became 'One'.

The length of track that passes through Thorley - only 1 mile 27 chains (1 chain = 22 yards) - was used as the basis to settle a court case between the railway company and the Bishop's Stortford Union in 1907. The dispute was over a request by the Great Eastern Company for a reduction of the rateable value of their 11 mile track from Sawbridgeworth to Elsenham. After protracted negotiations the magistrate's court determined Thorley's valuation be reduced from 4,440 to 3,696 and therefore the whole length from 36,190 to 30,867.

I am indebted to Peter Paye for the use of his extensive archives for background material for this article.

As for the tenuous connection between Thorley and the space shuttle ……….

The engineers who built the first railways as tramways used the same jigs and tools as they used to build their wagons. The wheel base of the wagons was determined by the rutted roads originally built by the Romans and the Romans built their chariots to be pulled by two horses. British engineers built the first American railways using the same gauge and the booster rockets, built in Utah have to travel through railway tunnels en route to the launch pad. Hence the railway track at Thorley, Roman chariots and the width of booster rockets are based on the same 4 foot 8 inch gauge.

Bill Hardy
September 2005

From the Archives